Such a Beautiful Life…
September 27th was my ex’s 73rd birthday.
My daughter called to ask me how old he was going to be. I didn’t even have to think about it. Like making scrambled eggs, some things you don’t forget. 1947-2020 is 73. Wow. Some amazing things were happening a few years before that.
American Soldiers had landed in Germany and they meant business. The ANTI-FASCISTS had arrived. The Nazi’s were about to have their assets kicked once and for all.
When I heard this story told to me by the folks I called my “in-laws” for no other reason than I adored them, I fell in love with them as human beings as well as with their beautiful love story. It’s so beautiful, I’d like to share it with you.
My “father in law” was my sax player’s father. Greg and I were working triple time between our regular jobs, the band, gigging, etc. It made sense to be roommates, and so we were. In our Astoria, Queens, old fashioned greek neighborhood, appearances were everything. We were seen as a family and I guess, we were. We argued like siblings but stood together as a fierce team when eyes were on us, lol.
When he told me he was estranged from his parents, I was curious as to why. I would’ve eaten dirt to have had two parents. I was raised by my mom after my dad passed suddenly of a massive heart attack working three jobs after the doctor told him he HAD to stop working. His determination to care for his family cost us his life, and as quirky as she was, my mom was a gem to me.
Greg called his family after who knows how many years. The conversation was theirs to have. I got lost so he could have his privacy. The result was a Sunday dinner way out on Long Island set for that weekend. What time? I invited myself and there we were in our Sunday best.
His mother answered the door. There we stood, starting at each other in amazement. I finally introduced myself and my tiny 3 three year old who she swept into her arms and filled with hugs and kisses. “I always wanted girls.” was the first thing she ever said to me. “Greg, you never told us your roommate was a girl, and what a lovely baby.” Dinner was amazing. Homemade sauerbraten with all the fixings. At 25, I looked 15, and ate like a hungry wolf. That’s the third thing I was told. We put the baby to bed and stayed up chatting.
Greg’s Dad was a S.Sgt in the United States Army and a war hero, in my eyes, as are all who serve. He was nineteen when he went to Germany to fight against the Nazi’s in 1942. His team was on a search and rescue mission.
My father in law’s blue eyes twinkled as he described himself as a 19 year old Army S.Sargeant, going into the heart of the tragedy. “Full of piss n vinegar, I was — a real scrapper.”
Berlin was a bombed out disaster, the air was gray, dust, rubble everywhere, he described the outer shells of bombed out buildings resembling an apocalyptic horror caused by a madman with a plan. His troops and he were there to assess the damage and assist any survivors. The neighborhood they were in was a ghost town.
They found a young boy in tatters holding onto his trousers many sizes too large for his tiny emaciated frame. Trying his best to avoid them, he hid in the shadows. He really made their day miserable, running, hiding, fearful — with a platoon of teenaged soldiers hot on his heels in pouring rain.
Pop Pop, “Georgie”, as Mom used to call him, was Brooklyn born and raised. His german, polish grandparents taught him enough german to have him be able to communicate to the youngster that they were going to do their best to find his family and until then, he would be in good hands with the Americans. The boy was petrified of the fierce looking soldiers and bolted.
They caught him before nightfall and returned to their camp. They couldn’t find anything that would fit him, but they did their best and sent him to the showers. He refused to go. Stamping his feet; crying outrage; wanting to return to the streets on his own, he was as vicious as a feral cat to anyone attempting to get close to him. After hearing about all he could take, “Pop Pop” jumped up, threw the child over his shoulder and headed for the showers. This stinking street rat was going to get clean. Enough, already.
Mom interjected here and said: yes, I was so afraid. I was hitting his back. I hurt my hands. It was like punching a wall. It was true, Pop was 6’4″ and although getting on in his years, he was a force to be reckoned with.
I was confused. Wait. Mom, you were there, too? They both laughed, their eyes meeting; the joy, evident.
You guessed it. That screaming brat was no boy. He was a 16 year old teenaged young lady, who’d lost her family during the evacuation. Pop Pop kept her secret. He told her he’d protect her till the day he died, and so it was.
That’s how life was back then. Teenagers were for the most part considered adult enough to do everything their older observers could do. By the time you were ten, you could take over the family business. By the time you were twenty, you were married with children on the way and a house to call home.
Pop came from a modest, humble family. As was customary then, he lived with his parents, grandparents and five siblings in a 2 bedroom walk up. As Pop described it, it was a hell hole but someone had to live there.
What a remarkable fellow. Here he was in a strange country, not even 20 yrs, trying to ignore his hunger and do the right thing. To him it meant keeping this young woman’s gender private to protect her and her reputation.
The following day, Pop loaded Mom into his jeep and set out to find her kin. A few hours later, she was back with her aunts and uncles, who were so relieved little Margot was fine.
He returned dressed in his Army best the following day with two bouquets, one for the auntie and one for young Miss Margot, who resembled a very young Judy Garland, in her pinafore dress.
He asked permission to continue checking up on them, mainly her, and they soon fell in love. They were married in Berlin, had Greg a few years later and the four of them (including his service dog, Rex, which they smuggled in, instead of putting down as he was ordered to do) returned to the states.
Uncle Sam was very protective of its armed forces during that time. Loans, land, homes, education were provided for our service people returning from WW2 at very little or no cost.
He settled for a thirteen acre plot which then cost him about five grand in the middle of an established nowhere town called Kings Park, N.Y., which was nothing but potato farms as far as the eyes could see.
There, they raised sheep, had a few horses, cats, dogs, it was a wonderful place that he built for his family surrounded by a lush forest that till this day is an animal sanctuary, untouched by man.
Life took Greg and I in different directions, but the connection we had with his folks and my mom lasted for the rest of their lives. Our parents became besties and although there were so many years Greg and I barely spoke, when holiday time came, our families gathered out on Long Island and enjoyed life.
Both Mom and Pop are resting in Calverton Cemetery, where Heros sleep in peace, eternally.
I wish this or better for all of our service people. I hope I live long enough to see them favored and cared for as beautifully as they were after WW2.
As for Greg, well, he just sold his share of the land and moved closer to my .. excuse me, our daughter. Yeah, that’s a bond that’ll never break.
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